27 December, 2009

Home Visits: Spendor SP-100 and DIY Fullrange

Home Visits: Spendor SP-100 and DIY Fullrange

Different ways, all money well spent

It's amazing to realize it has been exactly one and a half years since I started my Blog. The inaugural article was on Usher. The third article was a Spendor Overview and it's a delight to return to Spendor again here.

Click on pics to enlarge

Class A Bargain
A week ago I hooked up with icefox in 葵涌. After lunch at likely the busiest 茶餐厅 I have ever visited (where the waiters were literally running around) we spent some time listening to his SP-100. Previously, he was listening to the Maggie 3.5s. While he was awaiting servicing for the Maggies, icefox brought the Spendor SP-100s out and placed them in positions where they can be more advantageously heard. This just happened recently and so things have not settled down. At first sound was a little lugubrious and the bass was not too good. So we spent some time getting them into shape. Things have changed a bit from the previous visit. For this temporary setup:

-CAS: Mac mini + HD. iTunes/AIFF/mini Toslink into a set of recently acquired old DPA flagship (still not nearly as good as CDP playback).
-CDP, Preamp, Amp, speaker cables: Symphonic Line
-Speakers:Spendor SP100

-The first thing I noticed was that icefox in haste used a few strands of solid core copper (stripped from Pirelli power cables) threaded through the holes of the binding posts (SP-100 is Tri-wire) as jumpers. The cores are of rather high AWG (diameter) and he used many of them. Since my own experience is too many strands of solid core wires cannot be used in a cable without the risk of smearing the sound, we removed them and decreased the number of strands, using only 2 twisted together. Sound was immediately cleaner and bass became more agile.

-I noticed the single pair of speaker cables were inserted into the bass posts. I moved the (+) to the midrange post and left the (-) on the bass post. There was immediately more air. I don't always favor this kind of connection but it's system dependent.

-I know for a fact the SP-100, like most large speakers, respond to bi-wiring (few people would go to the extent of tri-wiring). In fact, IMHO this is a MUST for better control. I brought with me a set of twisted solid core jumpers (from salvaged old AQ cables) and hooked up the treble and midrange posts. icefox dug up some very long Gotham cables, 2 pairs of different construction and length (I think 50040 and 50150) and we installed them, the shorter pair on the bass units. the sound improved further, for me to an extent larger than the previous 2 maneuvers. Most importantly, sound was much more at ease, especially with classical showpieces. Bass smoothed out and, more importantly, now had a walking quality. Perhaps the cables had not been used for too long; sound was just a little slow for my taste, something that's not characteristic of Gotham.

-icefox finally remembered had had another pair of Symphonic Line speaker cables, loaned to him by oozz. Perfect! The two pairs were of identical length and the switch tightened up the sound a small notch.

-A very small degree of toe-in snapped images into better focus.

The speakers are really marvelous. They filled up the space in a way that the Maggie 3.5 could not begin to do. Sound is fast and smooth, dynamic as hell and responsive to all types of music. Properly set-up they put most super-expensive speakers of nowadays (unfortunately too many of them) to shame. Remember the SP-100 is an evergreen on Stereophile's Class A list. You should audition it.

In truth, I should mention that although SP-100 should be (tri) bi-wired for better control, this should not be taken as an indication that it's power-hungry. Just as importantly, the SP-100, like many good speakers (Maggie e.g.), does not need expensive amplification to sound its best. A good tube preamp and a cheap but resonably strong amp is already enough to bring you to nirvana.

Add a little here, a little there, all on the cheap
Then we visited neighborhood denizen welborne, another very old friend of mine. I was delighted to run into limage and Ken1967. It's a Monday, does any body work these days?

When I first knew Welborne in my Cheaptubeaudio days he was into tubes and all kinds of reasonably priced things, including fullrange speakers (Diatone), BBC monitors, SET amps etc. In recent years he has concentrated on T-amps and the like, but it seems his love for the fullrange has remained. His setup is, to say the least, most unusual. It's slightly different from when I last visited:

-Digital: Philips 963 into Promitheus (non-oversampling) DAC
-Amps: NuForce integrated for fullrange and tweeter; pre-out to electronic crossover to Virtue Audio T-amp for bass.
-Speakers: The calling card of the system. based on a (radio) SABA fullrange. I forgot the (super)tweeter. The bass is augmented by a huge professional Celestion unit. the "enclosure" is basically open-baffle.

welborne's has always managed good sound. The speakers are highly sensitive and likely present a benign loading curve (important for digital amps). The sound was layered and easy on the ears. I don't think even flea-powered T-amps would be taxed by the fullrange and tweeter. Compared to last time, sound was smoother but slightly lacking in fleshiness. Perhaps the crossover needs a little fine-tuning (I'm sure he's doing that all the time). Overall, however, the sound was quite musical. It's now from Cheaptubeaudio to CheapTaudio for welborne. Try to pay a visit and be amazed by what can be achieved for so little.

My view of T-amps in general
Texture always seems to be somewhat deficient; I think that's too much to ask from T-amps. Call me biased, T-amps and such likes always seem to me to have a one-dimensional and "papery" quality (for lack of a better word) in the sound. There can be a lot of it, or a little, but never completely absent. I'd not say "digital sound" because the better digitals (at least as source) sound satisfyingly fleshed out. And for a SE Triode man, harmonics and decay of T-amps are also not of the first rank. However, for the price and convenience (diminutive size) they are wonderful things.

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